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Man Pleads Guilty to Harassing LA Islamic Center on Social Media

Mark Feigin wasn't shy about his views. According to CNN, the real estate agent and Uber driver admittedly has 'a big mouth' and strong views on Islam, telling investigators that he wasn't 'really a fan of Islam. I don't like their views.' He freely posted those views on the Facebook page of the Islamic Center of Southern California in Los Angeles back in September of 2016.

Those comments, along with a mysterious, threatening phone call, launched a hate crimes investigation that pleaded out last week. It's a tale with some intrigue offering a look at social media harassment and the law.

Is Doxing Illegal?

Depending on your point of view, releasing a person's identifying information on the internet might be one of the few ways to hold someone accountable for hateful actions or an avenue to unleashing hate upon an undeserving someone else. Trying to out white supremacists who participated in political violence? You might support it. But what about a person misidentified during those efforts? Or what about the other side using the same tactics to target opponents with harassment?

Either way, doxing has remained, thus far, a largely legal activity. But that doesn't mean doxing can't stem from or lead to a crime.

Swatting, the asinine behavior of gamers reporting crimes at the addresses of other gamers, can have serious consequences. Take the case of Andrew Finch, first the victim of an elaborate swatting prank in which a murder and hostage situation were called into his Wichita, Kansas home, then the victim of a police officer's bullet.

Police are putting the blame for Finch's death squarely on the alleged prankster, Tyler Barriss, a 25-year-old Los Angeles man who was arrested in connection with the killing. But who's ultimately responsible?

2017: The Year in Cybercrime

As more and more of our social life and day-to-day business exists online, the more criminals will try to take advantage of the internet and access to our personal information. But identity theft is far from the only cybercrime, and the past year demonstrated that.

Here are the major cybercrime stories from 2017:

The protection racket is an old criminal enterprise, consisting of extorting money from people or businesses to keep them safe. Safe from whom? Well, from you of course.

And it turns out you can teach an old crime new tricks. Paras Jha and Josiah White ran a company that specialized in mitigating DDoS attacks (when multiple computer systems flood the bandwidth of a targeted system, shutting it down). The two also created the Mirai botnet and, as Brian Krebs put it, "[l]ike firemen getting paid to put out the fires they started," targeted organizations with DDoS attacks in order to boost their clientele. Jha, White, and co-conspirator Dalton Norman pleaded guilty to federal computer crime charges this week, after their botnet shut down large swaths of the internet last year.

The federal Computer Fraud and Abuse Act prohibits accessing a protected computer without authorization. That seems clear enough, until you consider the myriad permutations of authorization.

Let's say I have permission to access a computer at work. Can I give authorization, by way of my username and password, to a coworker? What about someone else? Let's say a former coworker had his access to our computer system revoked, and I let him use my login info -- does that make me a hacker? Or him?

The Supreme Court declined to weigh in on these questions, presumably believing the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals had settled them adequately. So what were those cases and what constitutes hacking nowadays?

Can Sexting Be a Felony?

With increased access to smartphones with cameras, and limited access to good decision-making skills, teens have turned sexting into a serious issue that parents, educators, and sometimes the police need to deal with. And state laws, prosecutors, and courts have turned sexting into a serious criminal offense that teens may be left dealing with for the rest of their lives.

The Washington State Supreme Court last week upheld a conviction for distribution of child pornography, even though the defendant was 17 at the time, has Asperger's syndrome, and the photo he sent was of himself. The crime is a felony, requiring the teen to register as a sex offender.

The Department of Justice called it "one of the most advanced crimeware tools available in the underground market," malware that infected almost 11 million computers worldwide and caused over $500 million in losses. And its creator was just sentenced to five years in prison.

The "banking trojan" software, dubbed Citadel, targeted password managers and financial institutions, and Mark Vartanyan is the second Russian to be sentenced to prison over its use.

Unless you are installing keylogging software on your own computer, or as part of a legitimate business operation, there's a good chance you could face some serious criminal penalties. While there are some legitimate uses for keyloggers, most frequently, these are used by hackers to steal personal information, such as usernames and passwords, bank and financial information, or any other information that can be sold or used to extract money from a victim.

Keyloggers can be either software or hardware, and are used to record individual keystrokes on a keyboard. When keylogging software is installed, a hacker will be able to see everything that gets typed, and can use the data to figure out a person's most sensitive information.

When Lester Packingham, Jr. pleaded guilty in 2002 to taking indecent liberties with a child following a sexual relationship he had with a 13-year-old girl while he was 21, social media didn't exist. Facebook wouldn't go online for another two years, and a North Carolina ordinance prohibiting registered sex offenders from accessing any "commercial social networking Web site where the sex offender knows that the site permits minor children to become members or to create or maintain personal Web pages" wouldn't be enacted for another six.

Still, Packingham was convicted of violating that statute in 2010, when he took to Facebook to say that "God is Good!" after having a traffic ticket dismissed. Packingham challenged his conviction on First Amendment grounds and the Supreme Court agreed, ruling state laws banning registered sex offenders from social media sites like Facebook are unconstitutional.